Frustration levels are high as I find myself perpetually stuck behind slow-moving RVs on British Columbia’s Highway 4 in my 2018 Audi SQ5. The two-lane highway twists, turns and climbs through forests and along inland lakes providing excellent scenery, and it’s a welcome sight following a relatively boring, mostly straight shot heading out of Victoria. Sadly, the behemoths clogging the road prevent me from having much fun in this new, more performance-focused member of Audi’s Q5 crossover family.
Not being able to flog the SQ5 on roads this entertaining is painful. Really opening up its new 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 just isn’t possible for prolonged periods. The new engine churns out 354 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, with the latter helpfully available from 1,370 to 4,500 rpm. Compared to the previous SQ5’s supercharged six-pot, this new turbo mill delivers a 23-pound-foot increase in torque and fatter peak power bands, and is more efficient, returning 19 mpg in the city (up from 17) and 24 mpg on the highway.
Working with the engine is an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, which carries out fluid, well-timed shifts and boasts respectable response times for manual up- and downshifts. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard to efficiently get power to the ground, as one would expect of a high-po Audi. The whole drivetrain package scoots this 4,398-pound SQ5 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and up to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
What few passing lanes there are along my route give me the opportunity to lean harder on the throttle, safely shooting by as many slowpokes as possible. The blown V6 is punchy, with zero boost lag, delivering satisfying thrust all the way to its redline and belting out a surprisingly throaty exhaust note. It’s certainly quick, but it’s not quite wickedly muscular.
Finally, I get lucky and find clear road ahead. I toggle the SQ5’s Drive Mode Select system to its Dynamic detent for the most aggressive throttle mapping, tighter steering and firmer settings for the standard adaptive dampers and my test car’s optional air springs. Blitzing through the bends is a hoot, with the SQ5 exhibiting great composure and minimal body lean. Grip levels are high on the available 21-inch wheels (20s are standard) wrapped in high-performance Pirelli P Zero tires.
No doubt, my Audi’s excellent corner-carving capabilities is also helped by its optional sport rear differential. The mechanical unit is capable of transferring up to 100 percent of its torque to the right or left tire to improve lateral performance. I’m not here to tell you that I can actually feel the diff working, but the fact that understeer never shows its ugly head — even in tight turns — makes me believe that it’s back there doing its job properly.
Steering is surprisingly weighty in all Drive Mode Select choices, and the wheel offers descent feedback. Brakes are muscular, with six-piston front clampers that have no issues slowing down this midsize crossover in short order.
How is the SQ5 as a normal commuter? On well-cared-for British Columbia roadways, ride comfort is impressive, even on the wide, low-profile rubber, with only a bit of tire noise filtering into the cabin. The few bumps I encounter are smoothed out by the softened suspension, but I have a feeling that it this model wouldn’t fare as well on the ravaged roadways back home in Michigan.
The SQ5 doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to itself, with exterior styling changes that aren’t too different from the standard Q5. Besides its bigger wheels, larger lower intakes, a tasteful rear spoiler and some aluminum trim, the SQ5 alterations on the outside are minimal, enabling one to fly under the radar in this 354-horsepower performance hauler.
I have no major complaints about the SQ5’s interior, either. It features comfortable and supportive front sport seats, a racy flat-bottomed steering wheel, lots of leather and Alcantara, sufficient space up front, and a backseat that can comfortably carry a couple of adults. Fitting three passengers snugly in the back is possible, but the person stuck in the middle will also have to straddle a large transmission tunnel hump and probably won’t want to be there for long.
The SQ5 will also carry a fair amount of stuff, with 26.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. Fold the second row down and capacity grows to 60.4 cubic feet, bettering other midsize performance crossovers like the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 (56.5 cu. ft.) and Porsche Macan (53 cu. ft.) in the cargo space department.
As for infotainment, the available MMI all-in-touch system with handwriting-recognition is quick to carry out commands and intuitive to work through. Navigation with Google Maps imagery, 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity, Audi’s 12.3-inch configurable Virtual Cockpit gauges and a crisp-sounding 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system all work as advertised.
Additional safety tech on all SQ5 models include a head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, rearview camera, rear-cross-traffic alert and an exit warning system that alerts you if you’re about to open your door into traffic. Pedestrian and vehicle collision warning with automatic braking is also included on all SQ5s. The system only went off once during my drive at a warranted time when approaching a slow-turning car, so props to Audi for programming a collision-warning system that doesn’t give off false warnings and isn’t hyper sensitive.
Features like adaptive cruise control with stop and go, traffic sign recognition and active lane assist are also available options, but unfortunately, they weren’t fitted to my tester for evaluation.
Rolling into Tofino, British Columbia marks the end of my 200-mile journey in the potent-but-practical SQ5. Through dull runs on arrow straight roads, parades behind slow vehicles and spirited driving on twisty roads, this hot crossover SUV is able to adapt to all situations thanks to the adjustability afforded by its Drive Select system, and that’s an impressive feat offering such a wide bandwidth of performance.
A $55,275 base price (including $975 for delivery) honestly doesn’t seem outrageous for the SQ5. On sale at dealers now, that pricing puts it on a par with other sporty crossovers like Mercedes’ $55,825 GLC43 and Porsche’s $56,450 Macan S. I can’t say which one of the trio I would end up choosing without driving all three back to back, but I can say that the Audi is a strong contender, as it’s a solid all-around piece that provides both comfort and also a lot of fun.
How fun? Entertaining enough that even a short time hammering it hard on great roads will make anyone forget about being stuck behind a bunch of RVs.